Utah Beach

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
A short story about the landings in Normandy during World War 2.

Submitted: November 17, 2016

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Submitted: November 17, 2016

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Utah Beach

By Francis Rand

There's something unnatural about the world away from home. I'm not talking about feelings or nothing, I mean the literal environment of the world around you. Walking doesn't feel the same, sleeping doesn't feel the same, hell even breathing doesn't feel the same. It even happens when I'm on vacation. In fact, last trip to Key West I distinctly remember not feeling right every morning when I woke up. I ended my trip after two days. But hey, God knows anything would be better than this place.

We've been on the Higgins boat for around two hours now and the seas have been pretty rough. Leave it to the French to have 59 degree weather and 6 foot waves off the coast of a beach in early June. For the first hour we were getting tossed around like fucking rag dolls but it's been pretty decent since then. We catch a swell every five minutes or so but, we also get these periods of little rhythmic glides where the salty-mist and light breeze wash over us and everything seems okay for a second. It's actually quite refreshing. Plus everyone has stopped puking. Fucking Eddy Amberson threw up right next to me ten minutes in and got some in my boot. I guess I got him back when I chucked on his ammo pack about 20 minutes later.  The only guy who didn't get sick was Gerry Tomlin. Gerry sat there with an indifferent face the entire ride but was not phased once.

I probably should mention that Gerry was a little different than the rest of these guys. He doesn't look different or nothing like that. There was just something off about him. A couple screws loose I guess. Gerry actually really never speaks. He's quiet for the most part except for every once in awhile when he does his thing.

Gerry does his thing when he gets uncomfortable or anytime it gets too loud around him. Or when they're serving the cheesy grits in the mess hall, that gets him excited too. Gerry's thing is sort of like this fast whistle chirping. He'll run around flapping his arms like wings and just does this whistle chirping till someone calms him down. In fact, I don't think I've ever heard him say an actual word our entire time at boot camp. One of the Brits that got put up with our battalion claims he once heard Gerry tell Sgt. Rhodes to "Go fuck himself" but I don't believe that for a second. Those fucking tea sipping Brits always have a bullshit story for us "Yanks", as they often call us.

The whole reason Gerry is next to me is because of the Sergeant's orders. I guess the Sarg thinks I'm the only guy of the bunch that's not a total prick so he told me to watch out for Gerry.  Could you believe that shit? The very same Sgt. Neil Rhodes who made me clean the bathrooms with my toothbrush because "My pillow was crooked" has a sweet spot for Gerry. One of the chefs told me it was because Rhodes has a little sister back in Maine who was messed up in the head too. Same kinda thing as Gerry. Regardless, his instructions were very clear, "I want you on his back the entire time. I'm keeping tabs and if I hear that the guys were fucking with him and you do nothing about it, I will personally come to the front to rip your fucking head off and use your teeth as the new needle for my phonograph. Do I make myself clear soldier?" He made himself very clear. I would prefer it that my teeth were not used to play the Sarg's "Glenn Miller" records.

And now here we are, executing "Operation Neptune" about 3 miles off of “Utah Beach". I don't think Gerry will last very long. We're the fourth wave of guys getting sent in and from what I've heard the Germans are fucking hammering us. They got AA guns, 50 cals, and mortar fire all along the beachhead. Word is that the kids they sent in first were blown away the second they landed. Back at the bootcamp they would put us through the ringer and make our lives hell but, they got what they wanted out of it. They got soldiers. We’re actually considered a more highly trained division. Unfortunately, there was no way they could prepare us for what we were about to face. In fact, most of us knew that landing on that beach would be the last thing we do.  

As I sat there actually considering my own death for the first time in my life, I couldn't help but think about home. I wondered how my big sister was doing. I wondered how my mother was doing. Fuck, I even wondered how my old boss was doing. I missed getting done with a long day, hopping in my car, switching on the radio, and just driving around my little town. I used to take the same route every night too. A loop around Packanack lake, down Black Oak Road, cut through Redwood Way, and a straight shot down Hamburg Avenue all the way home. That was the only time I felt at peace. That and when I was with my girl.

I left a little lady behind when I got drafted. We had been dating for about four months and it was great. She was the type of girl that you could look in her eyes and she would say a million words just like that. We didn’t have to do all the lovey dovey bull shit to make it real. A walk around the neighborhood or a late night coffee at the ‘Park East Diner’ was enough for us. I wrote her every day from boot camp. She wrote me too. I used to get a letter a day from her. Then it was every other day. Then it was once a week. And finally, the letters stopped coming altogether. I’ll never forget how she ended her last letter, “Seasons may change, winter to spring, but I’ll always love you.” I heard from one of my buddys that she started fucking the town butcher a week later.

I started to ponder a little bit more about what the old neighborhood would be like this time of year and then I heard something that sounded like an egg crack. I snapped out of my daze as the warm liquid sprayed on my face. Mark Brennan’s brains were splattered all over the floor about five seats ahead of me. We were only a couple minutes from landing now and the popping sounds were becoming louder and louder. Marky must have gotten curious and popped his head over the barrier to catch a look at the beach. I guess the weather was clear enough for the German snipers to take the shot. He was 18 years old.

“KEEP YOUR FUCKING HEADS DOWN!” We all obeyed orders and ducked but then I looked up and saw Gerry. He had no idea what was happening and I had to pull him down with me.  I stared at his blank face and wondered what was going on inside his head. I wondered if he had any sense of fear or urgency about what was happening around him. I realized in that moment that he didn't and for the first time since we got here I felt real sorry for him. Gerry didn’t belong here mixed up in all this shit. You gotta understand that this country needed men and they weren’t really checking to see if they were fit to fight. It is a real shame he fell through the cracks and ended up here. A real shame.

“ALRIGHT MEN! THIS IS IT! DROP THE RAMP!” I saw a couple of guys kiss their cross and whisper a prayer. Then I heard the whistles that meant only one thing...go.

The ramp fell and an immediate shower of bullets hit the first couple guys up front. We began to scatter out of the boat as quickly as we could, hopping over the bodies in front of us. It was everyman for themselves. I was about hop off the ramp, amazed I hadn’t been shot yet, when a mortar went off about 15 feet ahead of me. It hit a pair of these Brits I was playing “Texas Hold’em” with the night before. I dodged right from that direction and began to run for cover. I hopped behind one of those big metal beach obstacles and kept my head down. Our objective was to rush the beach and siege the German mg42 gun bunkers so we could get our men through without getting shot down every two minutes. However, in that moment, my only objective was to stay alive.

Another mortar blast went off about 30 feet to the left of me. It was a miss. A second later another one only 15 feet to the left of me. It was a hit. One of my fellow soldiers legs landed right next to me. As I laid in the cold sand, watching the blood from this man's leg slowly mix into a puddle of seawater creating a murky shade of scarlet, I did not lose hope. In fact, I found inspiration thinking about where that next mortar might land. I sprang up and began to run for a little trench hole only a couple of yards in front of me. I had to push on...I had to make it to safety.

I looked up from the hardest sprint of my life and saw something that made my stomach do somersaults. A flash from the middle of one of those bunkers pointed right at me. It was over. My life was about to flash before my eyes but I was interrupted by a high pitched chirp from behind me. It was as if Gerry’s chirps and the start of the machine gun bullets were in perfect unison. I didn’t even have time to turn around before Gerry ran into me flapping his wings faster than ever before. He tackled me like a linebacker and we both went down instantly. Not even a half a second later I heard the swift roar of bullets fly over my head and make contact with a couple men behind me. I looked to my right and saw Gerry’s expressionless face stare back at me. I could swear he winked at me. The bird kid had saved my life.

A moment later I watched from my trench hole as Gerry sprang up, continued his bird routine in the opposite direction, and got blown away by a mortar that landed right next to him.

I didn’t see nearly as much action after that day.  After the war I went home, got married, and had 3 daughters. Millie, Daniela, and Gerry. My youngest is 17 years old now and she whines about how we gave her “a boy's name” but I had to pay my respects in one way or another. I hardly keep in touch with any of the guys who made it through on “Utah Beach” that day but we always end up finding a way of running into each other on June 6. That is one anniversary you can’t forget. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of Gerry Tomlin. He truly was the guardian angel I didn’t deserve. Every night on my usual drive, I shed a tear. I shed a tear not because I know Gerry didn’t stand a chance but because I know without him, neither did I.

 


© Copyright 2017 Francis Rand. All rights reserved.

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